India has rejected China’s latest overture to join the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and has said that it won’t take sides in the ongoing trade dispute between Beijing and Washington.
The remarks were made by NITI Aayog vice-chairperson Rajiv Kumar, who was in Beijing for the 5th Strategic Economic Dialogue with He Lifeng, the chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission — China’s top planning body.
India has remained cool to the BRI and was conspicuously absent at last year’s high-profile forum. But Beijing has continued its attempt to convince India to join the BRI, realising New Delhi’s prominence in the region and potential of its massive market.
Kumar said that the Chinese side “extolled” the project’s virtue and emphasised how “completely non-conflictual and respectful of sovereignty and independence” it was. However, Kumar said the BRI compromises India’s sovereignty as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor passes through Pakistan occupied Kashmir.
“After hearing India’s response they chose to ignore it,” Kumar said.
“Both sides recognise the differences over the issue. But there is sufficient scope within the defined redlines to take the development cooperation forward,” he said.
On the ongoing trade spat between China and the US, Kumar said India would not take any sides though it supports the multi-lateral trade order.
“India suo motu has been the supporter of the rule-based multilateral trading order. In that sense, we don’t have to take sides either one-way or the other,” Kumar said. “India has always taken independent position on trade issues.”
He said: “While India does not like any measures that harm the rule based international trade regime, there is no reason to take sides in this,” referring to the US and China announcing tit-for-tat tariffs on each other’s imported products.
Asked whether the US-China trade spat is advantageous to India, he said, “If war happens, elephants fight and grass gets affected. We are part of the grass. We don’t want that,” Kumar said.
He said the US and China, as the world’s top two economies. “We are not that level of player in the market. Our shares are much smaller. We are the takers of the rules than makers,” he said.
Kumar recalled the US and Japanese trade war in late 1980 when Washington successfully pressured Japan to cut the trade deficit.
“That is what the US is still expecting. If you notice, both sides have announced their position (to cut tariffs) but they have not given the dates. This is posturing,” he said.
“I don’t think anybody is interested in trade war trade crisis,” he said.
The status of the Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar (BCIM) corridor was also discussed and both sides took note of the differences between the two countries on it.
The BCIM is work in progress, Kumar said, adding that at present Bangladesh and Myanmar are not keen on it because of the Rohingya refugee crisis.
While the BCIM is officially one of the six major economic corridors under the BRI, India says it predates the project.__Hindustan Times